Modafinil isn’t just for civilians anymore, it is also the pill that is powering militaries all over the world. A growing number of countries use modafinil as a way to help soldiers stay awake to go beyond their limits. It’s especially helpful for pilots who must endure long flight missions without falling asleep. Military research divisions are leaving behind amphetamines, used since World War 2. This research is being openly sponsored and supervised by military agencies in more than 9 different countries.
Military research leaders
The United States is leading the pack in this research, conducting experiments through the Air Force Research Laboratory, Army Aeromedical Research Laboratory, Army Medical Research and Materiel Command, Walter Reed Army Institute of Research, and Special Operations Command Biomedical Initiative Steering Committee. That is just in the USA alone, there are many more putting in their effort to help push modafinil to its limits and give their soldiers an almost superhuman edge.
Canada has done its fair share of research at Defense Research and Development Canada. Asia is in on the action as well: China’s Second Military Medical University, South Korea’s Air Force Academy, Taiwan’s National Defense Medical Center, and the Bioengineering Laboratory of Singapore’s Defense Medical and Environmental Research Institute. India is also playing its part investigating modafinil through its Institute of Aerospace Medicine and Defense Institute of Physiology and Allied Sciences.
In Europe, France’s research program includes its Ministry of Defense, Military Health Service Research Center, and Institute of Aerospace Medicine. The Netherlands Ministry of Defense is also probing modafinil. The UK and other EU countries are actively using modafinil, providing valuable field data. And this is only the public research that has been published so far, there will be so much more in the near future that will surely leave us in awe.
Modafinil’s military applications
Some of the publicly reported studies thus far have tested modafinil in Black Hawk helicopter pilots, F-117 fighter pilots, French paratroopers, and Canadian reservists, among others. They’ve simulated A-6 Intruder bombing missions, AWACS flights, and French Navy patrols. In nearly every trial, modafinil has extended the ability to function without sleep. And we’re already using it in the field. The United States has given modafinil to Air Force personnel since the 2003 Iraq invasion. By 2004, the British Ministry of Defense had bought 24,000 tablets. By 2007, France was routinely supplying it to fighter pilots.
But why is all of this so important to these militaries? It is because of the urgency, one far greater than any other agency would have. For an airline a missed flight could just mean a small financial loss, but to the air force this could mean life or death. They are also more likely to need to be alert and vigilant during a mission and need to be able to perform at 100%.
Not a new concept, but a new solution
Militaries have been using stimulants for their soldiers for centuries. The British years ago would use tea as a way to try to stay awake and alert due to the caffeine found in it. Prussians went even further, using cocaine to power their soldiers. World War II is when both sides began to use amphetamines, which were highly effective, yet not ideal for soldiers’ health. The strong effects of these “go pills” had to be counteracted by “stop pills” which, as their name implies, helped relax soldiers afterwards. Amphetamines are still in use around the world, but governments recognize the harmful effects. Modafinil’s safety and effectiveness explain why so many countries are adopting it and publicly sponsoring that research.